That afternoon I cycled on to a one-castle hamlet called Kastelholm. This Swedish military bastion fared far better than Bomarsund, unbowed since its construction began in the 1380s. The tall, towered walls are red granite, mortared by limewash to create a dappled appaloosa appearance. Its heyday was 1523-1611 during a period of Swedish might, under King Gustav Vasa.
Near the castle is a microdistillery, which infuses its gin with local botanicals like yarrow and tansy. Throughout my journey the Åläning frequently described themselves as entrepreneurial; some 2,700 businesses are registered across the archipelago – impressive for a population of just 30,000 people. Graham suggested the islanders learned the value of commerce during Russian occupation, encountering their traders. Almost every village seemed to have a little business or factory.
The next morning, as I crossed back on to Fasta and followed an old postal route that ran across the archipelago from the mid-17th century, I found another such venture. Stallhagen microbrewery was founded in 2004 by a group of beer enthusiasts. They offer an interesting tour, particularly a room where I tested my olfactory senses on exotic hops and malts from around the world. For their chocolatey Baltic dark porter, the brewer smokes the malts himself, infusing birch and alder.
My guide, Johanna Dahlgrén, told me they’d been busy this summer with lots of visitors from Finland. Hold on, I objected, you are Finnish. “Well, we’ve been caught for centuries between Swedes and Russians,” she said. “Finland is just another boss in town. We get the best of both worlds.”
I asked what these nation-defining qualities were, expecting a philosophical musing. “Well, the Finns like light-roasted coffee and drier beers, and Swedes the opposite.”
She asked if I’d like to sample Stallhagen’s original pale lager. Conceding that the pope is indeed Catholic, I agreed. The label featured the Åland flag, thus drinking it felt like an act of solidarity with Åläning patriotism… and, well, I wasn’t cycling much further that day.